Denying Messianic Jews: A Story of Rejection from Taglit-Birthright Israel

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I’ve always identified as Jewish.
My mother was born into an Ashkenazi Orthodox Jewish family. My father was a Sephardic Jew.
I qualify by Sephardic standards; my mother is Jewish therefore I am Jewish.
I had my bat mitzvah.
I went to Hebrew School.
My mom was even a Hebrew School teacher.
I don’t eat pork, shellfish, or cheeseburgers. I may not be Glatt kosher- but I’m more kosher than most of the bacon cheeseburger and shrimp fried rice eating Jews I know.

Being Jewish already singles me out as different from the rest of the population. Within the Jewish religion many different branches exists.
I am part of a minority group within a religion that is already a minority.
The three main subgroups are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. Within these are different sects and classifications such as Hassidic and Sephardic. All of these groups have similarities and differences.The classification I belong to is a much smaller group called Messianic Judaism.

What is Messianic Judaism?

I’m a Jew that believes in Jesus, although I call him Yeshua as there are no J’s in Hebrew (Most dialects). I pray in Hebrew, I celebrate the Sabbath on Saturdays, I celebrate all Jewish Holidays, I fast on Yom Kippur, and I’ve attended a synagogue for most of my life. The only difference is in mainstream Judaism they pray for their Messiah to come. I pray for mine to return. To be a Messianic Jew is comparable to being the black sheep of the family. You’re labeled a traitor, deemed a disappointment, and rejected by the majority of mainstream Judaism.

Taglit-Birthright Israel is a non-profit organization that takes Jewish people (you only have to be a quarter Jewish) for a tour to discover Israel. My family that is half-Jewish half-Catholic was accepted. People who have never stepped foot into a synagogue are allowed to go, but I was rejected with the following e-mail:

Birthright Israel provides the gift of a first time, peer group, educational trip to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26. You must meet ALL 3 of these criteria to be eligible for a program:

1) You are 18 – 26 years of age;
2) You are Jewish;
3) You have not previously visited Israel on a peer group/educational experience or have not studied in Israel after the age of 18.

Birthright Israel has reviewed your application and determined that you are not eligible. You are considered ineligible for any of the following reasons:
– Your birthday is before May 1, 1989;
– You will not be 18 years of age by the departure date of the trip you applied for;
– You will not finish high school by the departure date of the trip;
– You are a student in an exclusively Jewish studies program;
– Responses on your application indicate that you do not meet the criteria for Jewish eligibility;
– You have already been on a Birthright Israel trip;
– You have spent approximately 3 months or more in Israel;
– You have been to Israel since you were 18 years of age or older to attend an Israel program or University or Yeshiva; to Serve or Volunteer on an Israeli Army Base or in another context which has been reviewed by Birthright Israel and considered to be a prior Israel experience.
– Some responses in your application need clarification and you have not yet responded to the email we have sent you.

If you have any questions, require further clarification, or feel that a mistake has been made, please email us at [email protected]
Sincerely,
Kara Kastan
Information and Registration Manager
Birthright Israel

Naturally, being that all I’ve ever know was Jewish culture and Judaism I was confused. I responded by answering their list of criteria-

Follow up:
– Your birthday is before May 1, 1989; – Born in 1991
– You will not be 18 years of age by the departure date of the trip you applied for; I will be
– You will not finish high school by the departure date of the trip; I have
– You are a student in an exclusively Jewish studies program; I am not
Responses on your application indicate that you do not meet the criteria for Jewish eligibility; My father came from an orthodox Jewish family as did my mother. My mother converted to Messianic Judaism, which is still a branch of Judaism.
You have already been on a Birthright Israel trip; I have not
You have spent approximately 3 months or more in Israel; I have never been
You have been to Israel since you were 18 years of age or older to attend an Israel program or University or Yeshiva; to Serve or Volunteer on an Israeli Army Base or in another context which has been reviewed by Birthright Israel and considered to be a prior Israel experience. Never been to Israel, or an Israeli Army Base. I have not
Some responses in your application need clarification and you have not yet responded to the email we have sent you. Did not receive an email.

I had been used to elitist Jewish rejection. One of my aunts gave my mom a rosary she found at their parent’s house because she thought it was hers (Catholicism and Messianic Judaism are not even close). Distant relatives say things in a tone dripping with judgement like “Is your mom still doing that Jews for Jesus thing?” (FYI Jews for Jesus is an organization I am not affiliated with, this would be equivalent to calling every Christian you met a Mormon).

People constantly go- but wait, if you believe in Jesus you’re not Jewish.

Umm, sorry, no it doesn’t work that way.

Birthright responded with the following: